The Well-Ordered Church
February 7th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
Church, Ecclesiology, Order, Spiritual Gifts, Worship, Great Doctrines of the Bible: Ecclesiology, 1982, 1 Corinthians
THE WELL-ORDERED CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 14:40
2-7-82 10:50 a.m.
We are always your debtor, wonderful orchestra, wonderful choir, and dear, precious people. We welcome the great throngs of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Well-Ordered Church: The Beautiful Church. It is one in a series of doctrinal sermons, in a very long study on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” We have divided it into fifteen sections, and the section in which we are now preaching is ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church, and this sermon, The Beautifully Well-Ordered Church.
The text that introduces such a congregation to us is 1 Corinthians, chapter 14, the last verse, verse 40, “Let all things be done decently and in order” [1 Corinthians 14:40]. If we look at those words closely, it will have far more meaning to us than just that English translation “decent” and “order.” There is a Greek word euschēmōnos in adverbial form which means a “seemingly, becomingly manner and way.” The substantive form of the word is euschēmōn, euschēmōn—a euschēmōn church. That “e-u” is familiar to us, so many of our English words begin with “e-u.” The “e-u,” means—it’s a prefix—a Greek prefix meaning “well, pleasant, beautiful.”
You see the word in “Eucharist,” a beautiful thanksgiving; “eugenics,” splendid inheritance, the genetic foundation of human life—eugenics; “eulogy,” a beautiful word; “euphonic,” a beautiful sound; “euphemism,” beautiful speaking; “euphoria,” beautiful feeling; “euthanasia,” beautiful death. I looked in the ordinary English dictionary, and I counted thirty-eight English words built on that word “eu”—beautiful, pleasant, well.
The word in the second part of that compound, schēma, that word means how you respond to the presence of a man, how he impresses you in all of his fashion and characteristics, his bearing, his grace, his speaking, his manner; schēma, the fashion of the man. In Philippians 2:8 Paul uses that word to describe our Lord Jesus when He emptied Himself, “He was found in schēma, as a man.” All of the impressions that a man gives you in your five senses when you meet him and see him, that’s the word schēma. So euschēmōn would refer to a beautiful presence, as you see and sense a man or a congregation, when you see them, when you meet them.
The other word he uses there: “in order,” taxis [1 Corinthians 14:40]. Josephus uses that word to describe a Roman army camp. It was beautifully, felicitously ordered, taxis. He uses it to describe the worship services of the Essenes, that sect of the Jewish people who lived in those caves next to the Dead Sea and who wrote those Dead Sea Scrolls, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time. Josephus uses the word to describe their services. They were most orderly, in order. And, of course, Paul uses it here to describe the euschēmōn church, the beautifully ordered church [1 Corinthians 14:40]. And he commends to us such a congregation of the Lord [1 Corinthians 14:33]. When we see it and our five senses respond to it, it ought to be beautifully ordered. The impression ought to be pleasant and favorable.
In its worship services, in its organization, in its outreach ministries, in all of the many-faceted programs to which it gives itself, it ought to be beautifully ordered, and beautifully behaved, and beautifully seen. The impression ought to be one of godliness and heavenliness. Now where would you find such a church? You would think in heaven. That’s where such a congregation of beautifully behaved saints would be found, up there in the glory of the Lord. But there is no reference here in the Scriptures to such a location of that beautifully ordered, beautifully behaved church of the Lord.
When you read in the Bible, those churches are all here. One of them is in Rome. In the Bible one of them is in Corinth, one of them is in Ephesus, one is in Antioch, one is in Philippi, one is in Thessalonica. They were all located in this world and in the teeming cities of the Roman Empire. For example, out of the letter of Paul that I have chosen as the background text, the letter begins, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the church of God which is in Corinth” [1 Corinthians 1:1-2]. Now you tell me, did you ever in all of your life see two opposites so diametrical, antithetically opposite, brought together in one little brief phrase? “The church of God in Corinth” [1 Corinthians 1:2], this congregation of the Lord, that loves the Lord, worships God, lives in the will and plan of God, has the blessing of God upon them; the church of God in Corinth.
All of those ancient Greek cities were indescribably vile and wicked, licentious in the extreme. But out of all of the licentious and iniquitous Greek cities of the ancient world, none was as vile and evil as Corinth. They coined the word “Corinthian” to refer to a debauched and licentious person, “Corinthian.” So evil and depraved was that city, that a “Corinthian” was the vilest kind of a person. Yet, the two are together here: the church of God, the holy congregation of the Lord in Corinth [1 Corinthians 1:2]. Well, maybe that’s where it ought to be. And maybe the more teeming the city, the more earnestly and deeply and everlastingly needful is its presence.
I could easily imagine that God could have programmed His people, that the apostle gathered them together, and they live separate from the world on some beautiful Greek isle. If you have been over there, you know that the Greek archipelago numbers hundreds of those islands. When Lord Byron, the great English poet, visited Greece, do you remember the exclamation he makes in one of his great poems, “The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece, where burning Sappho”—the glorious woman poet—“where burning Sappho loved and sung.” Why didn’t God take His beautiful congregation and place it separate from the world on some one of those beautiful Greek isles? He didn’t do it. He placed it in the heart of those teeming, ancient cities.
And the church today, to me, seemingly belongs where those people are, thousands and millions of them needing the light of heaven shining upon them. I couldn’t think of New York City and not think of St. Patrick’s Cathedral right in the middle of it, right in the heart of the isle of Manhattan. I could not think of London and not think of St. Paul’s Cathedral in the very heart of the city, where all of those newspapers on Fleetwood Street right there at the door of that great house of God. I could not think of Paris and not think of Notre Dame, on that little island in the Seine River, in the very center and heart of the capital of France. And I could hope that we couldn’t think of Dallas—this great, teeming, growing metropolis—that we couldn’t think of this great city and not think of the well-ordered church, the beautiful congregation of God that He has placed in the heart of this city, where it belongs.
As you know, we have been invited several times to sell these properties. By now, we could sell our properties for far beyond $50,000,000. The First Methodist Church has been offered over $20,000,000 for their property. By now, I would think they could command $30,000,000, and they have a small proportion, compared to the six blocks our church is on in the heart of Dallas. I don’t know how many millions of dollars for which we could sell these properties. “Why don’t you? Think of the beautiful church house you could build in some section of the city with those millions and millions of dollars. Why don’t you?” Why we don’t lies in the elective purpose and choice and will of God. He placed that beautiful, well-ordered church in the heart of those great, ancient Roman cities. And that’s where the church belongs.
I was interested in a man I met on the street. He’s a wonderful fellow. He has an office high up in one of those tall buildings right there that looks down upon our church, casts its shadow on our church when the sun rises in the east. He’s way up there in one of those offices. I met him on the street. And he said to me, he said, “You know, I can’t tell you how it affects me when I look out the window of my office and I see children playing on that playground in the heart of this city.” He says, “It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in the world. Children in the church playground, gathered in the name of the Lord.” I feel exactly like that fine businessman. It’s a wonderful thing—in these skyscrapers, and in the teeming life of the insurance and banking and merchandising, wholesaling, all of the things that characterize the intense life of the queenly city of Dallas—that in the heart of it we also have a lighthouse shining for God.
The beautiful and well-ordered church of God in Corinth, in the city [1 Corinthians 14:40]. Not only in its location do you find it placed by the hands of God in the heart of the city, but its beautiful fellowship, its caring compassionate remembrance is heavenly to behold, the impression you have, the fashion of it, when you look and your five senses gauge it and judge it, describe it. For example, in the fifth chapter of the first pastoral epistle written by Paul to his son in the ministry, Timothy, he says we are to treat the older men as fathers and the younger men as brothers [1 Timothy 5:1]; we are to treat the older women as mothers, and the younger women as sisters [1 Timothy 5:2]. Isn’t that a marvelous way to be—an older woman as my mother, a younger woman as my sister, an older man as my father, and a younger man as my brother! What a marvelous, beautiful way to see one another, to greet one another—in deference, to love each other. Then the next verse, the immediate next verse, he speaks of our honoring widows [1 Timothy 5:3]. And thereafter, in the paragraphs that follow, he describes how that beautiful, well-ordered church ought to be toward the needy, and especially the widow [1 Timothy 5:3-25].
We don’t realize what the church has done for the world. One time, I was in India, and in India I came to Calcutta. What they do in India, they have what they call “burning ghats.” And of course in a big city like Calcutta, it would be a vast thing. And along the banks of the tributary, the part of the Ganges River that flows through Calcutta, are those burning ghats. I stood down there several hours and watched them bring their dead, and they burned them. And what remains of the body that is not burned they throw into the river. In that river are the biggest turtles I have ever seen in my life—enormous things—and they live on the remains of the dead that are burned.
Now as I stood there and watched that, an endless procession of the burning of the dead; in that same place William Carey, our first great Baptist missionary, went to spend his life. And in his day, they burned the widow with the dead body of her husband. Can you imagine the cries of pain and agony when the widow was placed on that burning pyre by the side of her dead husband? And even when I was there visiting in some of those villages, a widow, no matter how young she was—burned in the days of William Carey, but today—forced to wear certain kinds of clothes and never smile. Oh, what the church has meant, does mean, to the world! Those things seem barbaric to us. Yet they all have been done in the name of religion.
The beautiful church, the well-ordered church, the church that shines for God; anyone in trouble in our church? Has death entered any home? Is there sorrow or sickness or heartache? In the beautiful, well-ordered church of Christ, we are there to pray, to encourage, to lift up, to bring God’s presence and God’s blessing; a precious thing, a beautiful thing, God’s well-ordered church.
Do you notice as he speaks here in this passage about the needy—he has a verse here that is striking to me. He says in 1 Timothy 5:8, “If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” Oh, how much the faith is tied up with, an intricate part of, the behavior of the child of God. We learn that when we enter into the Christian faith and the Christian life, that it is interconnected with, interacted with everything we touch in life—our families, and our homes, and our children, our business and our work, the state, the city, the nation, everybody.
It’s an astonishing discovery if you haven’t thought it through. We are born into the church one at a time, as we are born into this world. We are baptized into the church, one at a time, by the Holy Spirit of God. It is very personal and very individual. But when we are born into the world, and when we are born into the kingdom of God, and when we’re baptized into the fellowship of the church, immediately, we are confronted with a plethora of problems, of decisions, of choices, of interactions.
One of the things that I noticed in the Bible, after we have the church launched, then follows in the New Testament the letters of Paul to the churches, and the first one is the letter of Paul to the church at Rome. That is a doctrinal treatise. The second letter is this letter to the church at Corinth, 1 Corinthians. And that whole Corinthian letter concerns problems that the church faces.
· There are divisions in the church, and he talks about that [1 Corinthians 1:10-4:21].
· Then he speaks of incest in the church, and he talks about that [1 Corinthians 5:1-5].
· Then he speaks of litigation in the church, going to court, he talks about that [1 Corinthians 6:1-8].
· Then he talks about food offered to idols—talks about that [1 Corinthians 8:1-10:33].
· Then he speaks of marriage and how we’re to marry in the Lord [1 Corinthians 7:39], and he talks about that [1 Corinthians 7:1-40].
· Then he speaks of how you dress in the house of God, and he speaks about that [1 Corinthians 11:2-16].
· Then he talks about abuses in worship [1 Corinthians 11:1-16].
· Then he speaks of the ordinances [1 Corinthians 11:17-34].
· Finally he comes to the collection for the saints [1 Corinthians 16:1-4].
The Bible is like that, and it reflects our own experience. We come into the kingdom of God in a great act of faith and commitment [1 Corinthians 15:3-4, 11]. But having come, immediately, we are met with decisions and interactions and problems. Oh, the many things that assail the church of God in Corinth!
Now as we live in the city and as we live in our world, there is given to us a beautiful and wonderful and marvelous strength and encouragement. Paul speaks of it in this encyclical that he wrote to all of the churches. We call it Ephesians. The first part of Ephesians, typical of Paul’s letters, [chapters] 1 through 4, is a discussion of the high theme of the heavenlies [Ephesians 1:1-4:32]. And then the last part of it will be a discussion of the problems that we have in our daily lives: fathers, and mothers, and children, and workers, and masters, all of it, a full-orbed revelation of God concerning the church of the Lord in Corinth, the church of the Lord in Ephesus [Ephesians 5:1-6:24].
And as we face our problems, and as we make our decisions, and as we live our lives in this teeming city and in this teeming world, the apostle writes of our unity and the source of our strength in our witnessing and in our living. And he writes of this like this. He says:
Endeavoring, working, striving, to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. For there is one Spirit, and there is one faith, and there is one Lord, and one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in us all.
Oh, what a magnificent benedictory outpouring has God made visible and experiential and real in this beautifully ordered church in Corinth, in Ephesus, in Dallas! He speaks first of the unity of the Spirit; God’s holy, informing, guiding Spirit in us all, in our work, in our house, in our home, in all to which we place heart and hand [Ephesians 4:3-4]. And when we come together, you bringing the Spirit of God in your heart, and you bringing the Spirit of God in your heart, and all of us together with the Spirit of God in our hearts [1 Corinthians 6:19-20], think of the beauty, and might, and power, and glory, and meaning of our worship in the name of the Lord.
We can grieve the Holy Spirit [Ephesians 4:30]. We can hurt Him. And He can withdraw His blessing from us [Galatians 6:7-8], but He never leaves us. He is ours forever. “I send Him,” said Jesus, “that He may be with you forever” [John 14:16]. And that Holy Spirit in us guides us, blesses us, strengthens us. And when we come together, we feel the moving of His Spirit in the congregation—that beautiful church!
Do you notice again? He speaks of the one faith that we have, one faith! [Ephesians 4:5]. There is one rule, and one order, and one source of instruction and teaching and doctrine for us all. And I hold it here in my hand: God’s inspired, inerrant, infallible Scriptures [2 Timothy 3:16]. Just as there is a body of truth, an objective body of truth that is possessed by, say, physics or by chemistry or by astronomy, so there is an objective body of truth in God’s rule, and regulation, and doctrine, and faith for us. And it is not metaphysical. It is not speculative. It is real and actual. You can hold it in your hand, as I can hold a book of physics in my hand. I can hold a book of chemistry, or a book of medicine, or a book of astronomy in my hand. I can hold in my hand the objective truth of God’s faith, God’s revelation, God’s truth! And I can read it, an objective revelation—not esoteric, not inward, but outward, objective. I can hold it in my hand.
One man’s idea of God or one man’s idea of religion is not as good as another man’s idea. It is not metaphysical. It is not speculative. It is not dubious. It is written down. It is revealed. It is objective. It came from God, not from man! And it is plainly to be taught, preached in the congregation of the Lord. It’s like this: one man’s idea, speculation, concerning the cause and cure of, say, smallpox is not as good as another man’s.
When I went through the central part of Africa, I came by a house, a mud house with a thatched roof, and in the yard there was an old broom. And on the top of the house, that cottage, there was another old broom. It looked funny to me to have an old broom up there and an old broom down here. And so the missionary said to me, “There’s smallpox in that house, and that’s their cure. Their cure for smallpox, according to the order of the witch doctor, is you throw an old broom on the top of the thatched roof, and you throw an old broom in the yard.” I was not surprised when the missionary said, “And smallpox last year nearly destroyed this entire tribe.” One man’s idea about smallpox is not as good as Pasteur’s, who said it’s caused by a germ; and we can inoculate and vaccinate against it.
So it is about the objective truth of God. One man’s speculation or metaphysical, dubious searchings or forensics is not as good as what God has said. It is an objective truth, and we can read it and study it and learn it for ourselves. That’s going to be the sermon tonight, I Want To Know God’s Will. What Shall I Do? God speaks, and to the heart that will hear and listen, He speaks plainly in your language, “Hearken and listen unto Me,” said Isaiah, “and your soul shall live” [Isaiah 55:2-3]. I must hasten, one other here: one faith, one rule, an objective revelation, and one Lord and God of us all, one Lord, one God of us all, who lives in us, through us, with us—our wonderful Lord [Ephesians 4:5-6].
Dear me! People remark on the fact that when they come to this church, they’ve never seen a Baptist congregation kneel. As you’ve heard me try to explain why I have our people kneel, when we’re in the presence of the great God, we who are but dust and ashes, it seems so appropriate and so right that in His presence we bow and kneel. He is our great God. In His omnipotent hands, He holds the entire creation [Psalm 95:4], and it is His compassionate love that is poured out upon His beautiful, well-ordered church [Ephesians 5:25-27]. It is He that was incarnate in Jesus our Lord [Matthew 1:23]. And when I come to Jesus, I come to God. When I love the Lord Jesus, I love God [Matthew 11:28-29]. When I sit at the feet of the Lord Jesus and learn of Him, I learn of God. And when I follow the Lord Jesus, I am following God [Matthew 16:24].
O Lord! All of our hearts in the beautiful church are bound together with golden chains that sweep upward from earth to heaven and are held in His dear hands. And no man can sever those chains that bind us to the heart of our Lord. I think one of the most triumphant chapter endings in all of the Word of God is the ending of that tremendous eighth chapter of the Book of Romans. Paul avows:
I am persuaded, in my heart I know, I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor principalities, nor angels, nor things present, nor things to come,
Nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Bound to Him, with golden chains of everlasting love. O Master, what an open door, precious and beautiful, when You invite us to belong to the family of God.
Now may we stand together?
Our Lord, could anything be more precious than that God loves us? That He came down into this world en schēma, in fashion, as a man [Philippians 2:8]—a Man that we could see and touch; whose fashion and presence we could look upon, who suffered for our iniquities [Isaiah 53:6; Titus 2:14], who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], who was raised for our justification [Romans 4:25] that we might be declared righteous in the presence of the great and holy God! [Romans 5:19]. O Lord, Lord, what You have done for us! And to be invited to belong to Thy family, to be one of Thy children and disciples, to be a part of the beautiful church, dear Jesus, thank Thee for the day when I felt that invitation and answered with my life and became a part of the body of Christ [Ephesians 4:4-5]. And thank Thee, Lord, for these years, to be here in this dear church, this beautiful congregation of Jesus. And our Lord, in this moment of appeal, may the Holy Spirit add to Thy kingdom and add to this dear church.
In a moment when we sing our invitation appeal, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you, down that stairway if you’re in the balcony, there’s time and to spare, down one of these aisles in the throng on this lower floor, “Pastor, we have decided for God, and here we are. We’re coming.” Bless you in the way; and thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet harvest, in Thy precious, saving name, amen. While we sing our appeal, welcome, come, welcome.